Unlike adults, teens are not yet equipped with the experience and coping skills to handle stress. This means instead of being able to effectively deal with one stressful situation and move onto the next, the stress builds up and causes more issues. And there is no shortage of opportunities for this in high school. On top of going to classes and keeping up grades, students have additional stressors from social groups, sports and extracurriculars, and college and career planning, among many others. Some students may also be struggling with trouble at home, moving schools, financial issues, health problems, and more that can add even more stress to their daily life.
It is important for high schoolers to learn healthy stress management at an early age, so they can carry these techniques into adulthood.
Unhealthy stress management can lead to unhealthy coping skills, such as eating disorders or drug/alcohol abuse. Higher stress can also lead to higher anxiety and depression in students.
For stress management, it is important to know how to keep daily stress under control, so that it does not build up, as well as how to take care of stressful situations and how to deal with stress in the moment.
Stress Management Strategies For You and Your Teens
I. Keeping Daily Stress Under Control
Keeping stress under control in general day-to-day life makes it easier to deal with stressful situations as they come up. This avoids everything piling up into one big mountain of stress that can be overwhelming. This can be done through scheduling, eating and sleeping well, getting enough exercise, staying organized, and making time to have fun.
Students who are over-scheduled do not have enough time to devote to all of their activities and end up spreading themselves too thin. Over-scheduling can lead to poor grades and poor performance in sports and extracurriculars. It can also take an extreme toll on their health. If students don’t have enough time to take care of themselves, how can they be expected to get anything done?
If your teen is seeming overworked, consider re-evaluating their schedule and dropping an activity, so they have more time to dedicate to the things that matter. Some students need to be pushed to work harder, while other students need to be reeled back in from working themselves too much. Make sure your student is not overdoing it.
2. Diet, Sleep, & Exercise
Prioritizing a good eating, sleeping, and exercising routine is incredibly beneficial for keeping daily stress under control. Whenever any of these are out of whack, it affects the body’s ability to deal with stress, which can increase it even more. Make sure your student is eating well and getting enough sleep, especially around stressful times. Caffeine can also increase anxiety and agitation in the body, as well as mess with sleep cycles, so consider limiting coffee or energy drinks if you notice an issue with this.
Is your student signed up for sports? If not, consider encouraging them to sign up for a sport or activity that gets them up and moving! Exercise is an excellent stress buster because it helps release the pent-up energy in the body. This pent-up energy can cause people to feel stuck, agitated, or aggressive when stressed, which can heighten stress levels more and cause behavioral issues in teens who do not have an outlet for these emotions. Being involved in sports gives students a consistent exercise routine that can help regulate stress levels, as well as provide a positive outlet and release for any pent-up energy.
Encourage your student to stay organized and on top of deadlines and obligations, so they do not pile up. Create a study schedule, make to-do lists, write down due-dates of big projects in a planner or on a calendar. Writing down everything that needs to be done helps you see it more clearly and allows your brain to focus on the individual task at hand, rather than the mess of deadlines. It also prevents the stress of a last-minute forgotten project.
Make sure that along with working hard, your student also has time to have fun and relax! Taking care of yourself is a big part of stress management. Students need to be reminded to treat themselves for the long school days! It is important for them to learn when to call it a day and rest, so they are not overworking themselves. Everyone needs time to decompress in their day-to-day life.
II. Keeping Daily Stress Under Control
Have you noticed an increase of stress in your child lately?
Stress can manifest in a variety of ways depending on the person, such as increased anger and irritability, changes in regular behavior (i.e. suddenly acting out or not wanting to leave the house), sleeping too much or too little, eating too much or little, neglecting responsibilities, or getting sick more often. Trying to push down stress and power through will often force the stress to make itself known in one of these ways. If you have noticed any of these changes in your child recently, they may be struggling with too much stress in their life.
For stress that is caused by a specific situation, figuring out the main source of it can help you better understand and better help your child with it.
There are many common sources of stress for high school students.
1. General overwhelm:
2. Academic issues:
There are a whole slew of academic stressors for students, such as keeping up with classes, maintaining grades, studying for tests, college prep, etc. Has your child been struggling with a class more than usual lately? Do they have any big exams or projects coming up? Are they struggling with the college application process and trying to figure out which school to go to? Academics is a big stressor for any grade in high school, so check in and see if there are any areas they may need extra help with right now.
3. Social / Relational / Self-identity issues:
4. Family / Home issues:
How can you as a parent help? The bottom line is making sure your child feels supported and has access to additional resources, if needed.
- Help them break up the task or issue into smaller and more manageable sections
- Lend an ear if they want to talk
- Remind them that the situation will get better
- Offer help, but do not fix the problem for them
- Share a stressful situation you went through and how you solved it
- Model good coping skills
- If needed, looking into additional resources
Offering support and a listening ear goes a long way.
Your teen may be feeling like they need to handle this stress alone. Remind them that is not the case. Listen to the issue and try to understand it the best you can. Oftentimes, being able to vent to someone can help the person see things from a new perspective and find a solution. Offer your teen advice and support, but refrain from fixing the problem for them. Instead, talk it out and help them find a solution that works for them. This will help them develop and improve their ability to manage stress on their own, which will help them significantly in the future. Furthermore, try to model good coping skills at home, so they can see healthy ways of dealing with stress.
The type of solution, of course, will vary depending on the issue. For example, if your student is stressing about an upcoming science test, you could help them make a study plan or quiz them on the subject matter to help prepare them for the test. However, if the stressful situation is something different, such as fighting with a close friend or issues at home, the solution will likely be more complicated and may not be easy to solve. In this case, listening to your child and letting them talk through what is stressing them out is very important. Remind them the situation will get better even if they cannot see a clear solution right now.
If the issue is beyond your scope, look into additional resources to help your child.
Depending on the issue, this could be a counselor or therapist to help with mental health or feeling overwhelmed, a support group, or a tutoring service to help with academics. Encouraging teens to work through stress on their own does not mean leaving them by themself to handle things alone. Make sure your child feels supported and has access to additional resources, if needed.
IIII. Simple Tips for Stress Relief
Along with learning how to keep stress under control and dealing with stressful situations, it helps to know how to relieve stress in the moment.
Here are some simple things you can do to help relieve stress:
- Go for a walk or a run
- Get some fresh air
- Focus on deep breathing
- Listen to music
- Make something (art, crafting, baking, anything that gets your hands moving and focuses your brain on something creative)
- Write down how you’re feeling in a journal
- Make a list of what you need to do
- Get up and stretch
- Do yoga
- Do some coloring (i.e. “zen coloring” books)
- Try a grounding technique (i.e. the “54321 method” that focuses your five senses)
- Take a break from technology (even a short break)
- Limit negative self-talk (instead of “I can’t do this”, say “I’m struggling with this”)
- Connect with a friend or family member
- Go do something fun!
These tips focus mostly on immediate stress relief, though they can also be adapted into a daily routine to help with stress management.
Encourage your child to try some (or all!) of these techniques and try adapting some into your own daily routine, as well. Even small adaptations to a daily routine can vastly improve stress management.
Stress can feel impossible to deal with sometimes, but the most important thing to remember is that we are not alone in it. Sometimes we don’t even know that we’re stressed until someone asks us how we’re doing. Check in with your teen to see if they need any extra help or support. Keep an eye on how stress is affecting their health and behavior and, if needed, seek out additional resources to help.
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